Essays on the Gita

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Then, there is a new material which is flowing upon us, new knowledge of science, that also has to be absorbed and assimilated. And ancient systems of knowledge and religions which have been put into the background for a long, long period but even they are being recovered. The meaning of the Veda, for example, which has been lost to our age, or even since ages, is now getting recovered. So even the Vedic knowledge and similar other knowledge of other traditions, the revelations of that knowledge also are coming upon us. Therefore, in the search of a new synthesis, our question is: can the Bhagavad Gita help us in arriving at a new synthesis of knowledge? Our very need is such that it cannot confine us to any kind of dogmatism. Right from the beginning we are asking new questions and we are in need of new answers where the knowledge of the past or past systems of knowledge can help us. But they will not be able to give us the final answer because we are in need of a new knowledge.

That is why Sri Aurobindo says that we have to recognise that in the past also there had been syntheses. Just as we are in need of a synthesis today, a new synthesis, in the past ages also there were periods when a new synthesis was necessary and new syntheses did come into existence, which were over passed by new syntheses and even those were passed over by new syntheses. And Sri Aurobindo himself describes at least four syntheses of the past which came one after the other in the Indian tradition itself.

The first is the Vedic synthesis, the second is the synthesis that we find in the Upanishads, the third is the synthesis of the Gita, the fourth is the synthesis of the Tantra. And now, we are standing again at the edge of a new synthesis, but just as in the past any new synthesis took into account the syntheses of the past, the earlier synthesis, similarly, for building up a new syntheses today, we need to study all the past syntheses. We have to learn the synthesis that was made in the Veda, the Upanishadic synthesis, the Gita’s synthesis, the Tantric synthesis. But among all these syntheses, Sri Aurobindo says the synthesis made by the Gita takes a most important place. There is a speciality of the Gita and that gives us a kind of a new perception on the Gita. Among all the syntheses of the past, the synthesis which we find in the Bhagavad Gita is going to be most helpful to us and it is for that reason that we are turning to the Gita.

There are many other contexts also in which we are turning to the Gita and we shall see as we move forward, but for the moment let us pause here, and this is where we were last time, I had described the synthesis of the Veda to some extent, and we were about to enter into the synthesis of the Upanishads. But let us revise a little and see last time what we did with regard to the synthesis that we find in the Veda.

As we know, the Veda is reputed to be "Veda" which means "Knowledge". Therefore we might say that Veda is a book of knowledge. The Veda is also reputed to be karmakanda. Now this karmakanda gradually came to be only a practice of ritualism, but basically, Veda is karmakanda in the sense that it gives the `secret of work'. What is work? As Sri Krishna will tell us in the Bhagavad Gita, we have to distinguish between karma, akarma, and vikarma. Actually, we find this distinction in the Veda itself so it is the knowledge of karma and the greatness of some of the Vedic Rishis was that they declared: "We have achieved perfection in works" some of the Vedic Rishis in their pronouncement they have declared : "We have now achieved perfection in works”. So they reached a climax. So, what is `work', what is the `secret of work', and what is the `perfection of works'? What is the meaning of it? When can we say that "We have reached the perfection of works"? This is a knowledge, the secret is also in the Veda.

The Veda is also a book of prayers. Every hymn is a hymn of prayer. It is upasana, it’s worship. Therefore in the Veda we find the earliest synthesis of Knowledge, Works and Devotion: bhakti, karma, jnana. But that is not all. There are some great peculiarities of the Vedic search and the Vedic synthesis. The Veda discovered the presence of `gods'. Now when we speak of gods, the present modern mind gets repelled, because belief in gods in modern times is supposed to be a result of a primitive mentality. That is because as the religions developed in history, what is called polytheism got surpassed, over passed, and there came gradually what is called `monotheism'. So it has come to be believed that monotheism is a superior religion, and polytheism is a kind of a superstition: only ignorant people can believe in gods; only ignorant people can have what is called: anthropomorphism. It comes from the word which deals with man, anthropology, for example, is the study of man. So anthropomorphism is to regard God in terms of man; to believe that God behaves like human beings: you flatter God and you will get some good results from God, and God is very pleased if you offer Him lots of offerings to obtain His promise to protect you whether you are right, or wrong. Because you  have approached God, therefore He is bound to be your advocate and He will defend you as human beings do. Now, this kind of belief in God, or gods is what is called anthropomorphism. So it is believed that polytheism is fundamentally anthropomorphist.

Human beings who are afraid of all kinds of things in the world came to believe that there are forces, beings, gods, behind these things: behind the sun, and the moon, and the stars, and the tides and the ocean and rains and everything. That there are so many spirits, so many gods and you can approach them: if it rains, you say to the Rain God, "Please don't rain because I have to cross the ocean now!" So if you approach Indra and if you give good gifts to him, then he will stop the rains for you. This is 'anthropomorphic' view of gods.

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